RALEIGH – One Charlotte real estate agent voluntarily gave up his license over the summer and two others had their licenses revoked after the N.C. Real Estate Commission brought disciplinary actions against them.
Michael Donald LaChapelle agreed to surrender his license after the Raleigh-based commission accused him of failing to communicate with two of his landlord clients, both of whom filed complaints against him. He was also accused of being late in transferring rental security deposits and of making unauthorized expenditures on behalf of the landlords, which he deducted from the security deposits and rent proceeds.
In response, LaChapelle said he is facing potentially life-threatening surgery, which is why he decided to give up his license six months before the commission contacted him about the complaints. He accused the property owners of blowing their allegations out of proportion to attack him personally. He also said the commission should be spending time on more serious matters.
The second case brought by the commission, which names Mainstreet Realty LLC, and agents Eric P. Smart and James Robert Glover, accuses them of paying unlicensed employees to perform work that must be done by licensed agents.
Calls to Mainstreet Realty for comment were not returned.
Security deposit dispute
Charlene “Charlie” Moody, chief deputy legal counsel for the commission, said LaChapelle eventually paid the security deposit to a landlord who had decided to transfer the leasing and management of a rental property from LaChapelle to another property manager.
But, she said, the commission charged him because “Mr. LaChapelle was unavailable to the complainant and he used a security deposit, which should be held in escrow, without permission.”
“When the property transferred to another company, the new property manager requested that Mr. LaChapelle send the security deposit paid by the tenant, Mr. LaChapelle said he was not going to send that,” Moody said.
“Mr. LaChapelle told him that he needed a specific form before he would send it; there is no specific form.”
The other complaint, according to documents provided by Moody, involved a foreclosed property managed by LaChapelle that a new owner said he bought at a courthouse auction.
The owner alleged there was dispute over a tenant who claimed to have paid LaChapelle 14 months advance rent. LaChapelle, the documents say, did not respond to inquiries by the new owner, who was trying to gather information about the property, the tenant and the rent money that was supposed to have been paid.
Both cases brought against LaChapelle are complicated, comprise 20 to 30 pages each, and include vituperative and contradictory statements by both sides of the disputes.
Contacted at home, where he said he is recovering from multiple spinal taps and preparing for back surgery to address his fibromyalgia and osteo- and rheumatoid arthritis, LaChapelle vigorously defended himself and criticized the commission.
He also laughed often during the interviews and said he did not want to “make a fuss and stir up more ill will over what amounts to nothing.”
“I have nothing to hide and have absolutely no need for money, so why would I ‘steal’ 57 lousy dollars?” said LaChapelle. He also said he is first cousins with celebrated commercial photographer, urban mural artist and video and film director David LaChapelle, a graduate of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. “I am well taken care of.”
“These are the first two complaints I’ve ever received, and I’ve been doing this for more than 10 years.”
LaChapelle, 50, whose business specialized in leasing and managing condominium properties in Charlotte’s Dilworth and Fourth Ward neighborhoods, said that if he was difficult to reach toward the end of his stint as a Realtor, it was because of his back problems.
“They said I was hard to find,” LaChapelle said. “I mean, ha, I’ve had the same place of business, the same phone number, I’m in the book, I’m a notary for God’s sake, you can find me on the internet, other clients found me during that time. I have email and a phone. I can’t drive to meet people, but I am not hard to find.”
LaChapelle, who responded immediately to a call for this story, also criticized the Real Estate Commission and state government in general.
“There are people who can’t find food or housing in this state, and they spend money investigating something like this, a (crappy) little soap opera involving a tiny little operation like mine?” LaChapelle said. “C’mon, use some common sense.”
LaChapelle said his surgery involves repairing four upper thoracic vertebrae, could be deadly “if they have to go too far up” his spine, and will leave him “100 percent disabled at the very least.”
Because of those circumstances, LaChapelle said, he would like to have his real estate license reinstated even though he said he has no intentions of ever practicing again.
“Just give me my dignity back,” he said. “If I live or if I die, I would like to be known as a Realtor for the 10 years of service I gave. At least give me a letter apologizing.”
Moody said she sympathized with LaChapelle.
“He has serious health issues, and I believe that is in part why he agreed to surrender his license voluntarily,” Moody said.
But, she said, the commission cannot ignore complaints against real estate agents and firms in any event, and that LaChapelle could have arranged to have another licensed broker handle his business if he could not.
“As always, we get it from both sides; everybody feels wronged by us,” Moody said in response to LaChapelle’s criticism.
“People would be horrified that we are not investigating their complaints. Respondents feel we are too harsh. When a property owner says he can’t get in contact with a property manager, that automatically is a concern. It may come down to $57, as Mr. LaChapelle says, but using a security deposit to pay for costs without notification, whether they are legitimate costs or not” is a violation of state law.
She said her agency agreed call off disciplinary action against LaChapelle in lieu of his voluntary license surrender because he eventually paid the landowners the security deposit.
“He told me he was unable, because of his illness, to defend the case, and I think the voluntary surrender is a reflection of that.”
Mainstreet agents lose licenses
The case against Mainstreet Homes LLC and agents Smart and Glover is more clear-cut.
The N.C. Real Estate Commission document enumerating the charges against the two agents says that the following actions violated six sections of the N.C. General Statutes:
“Respondent engaged in a series of transactions in which respondent, through various entities, sought out property owners who were in financial distress and entered into leases with options to purchase their real property. Respondent. . .paid unlicensed persons compensation for producing buyers for these transactions.”
The two agents signed consent orders revoking their licenses and waiving their right to seek judicial review or challenges.
The Mainstreet Homes website, http://mainstreetrent2own.com/, can still be found, but its features no longer function. Calls to the office phone number listed on the site are transferred to mobile phone number.
A voicemail greeting at the mobile number asks callers to “bear with us as” Mainstreet relocates its office from its former location on the Plaza. Messages seeking comment were not returned.